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Innovation in policing
Innovation in policing

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1.2 Policing as an innovation

While it might be tempting to assume that policing has always existed in a similar form to today, nothing could be further from the truth. In essence, modern policing as we now know it is a form of innovation in itself.

After various attempts at creating a more managed policing service including in London and, notably, in Dublin where he had previously served as Chief Secretary for Ireland, the then Home Secretary, Robert Peel, was instrumental in devising a new and innovative form of policing:

The Metropolitan Police Act (1829) established the London Metropolitan Police Department, an organisation that would become a model for future police departments in Great Britain, the British Commonwealth, and the United States. The “New Police,” as the force was called, was organized into a hierarchy of ranks in military fashion. Ranking officers were to be promoted from within, on the basis of merit. The basic police officer, the uniformed constable, was unarmed and had limited authority. Unlike other municipal police forces in Ireland and continental Europe, the London Metropolitan Police Department was designed to maintain close ties with and to draw support from the people it policed. The primary function of the force was crime prevention, and officers were instructed to treat all citizens with respect. Crime was to be controlled and public order maintained by preventive patrols; police were to be paid regular salaries; and no stipends were to be permitted for solving crimes or recovering stolen property. Constables also inherited many functions of the watchmen, such as lighting streetlamps, calling time, watching for fires, and providing other public services.

(Encyclopedia Britannica, 2020)

Underpinning this new approach to policing was an additional innovation: Peel’s principles of policing. These principles highlighted that police should:

  • demonstrate impartiality
  • focus on crime prevention
  • carry out their duties within the limits of the law
  • work in cooperation with the public so that the public voluntarily observes the law
  • use force only to the extent necessary to restore order and only when other means have been exhausted.

(Adapted from: Encyclopedia Britannica, 2020)

If we consider Peel’s innovations from the perspective of those forms of public sector innovation outlined by De Vries et al (2014) and discussed earlier, they were arguably innovations in terms of processes, governance and services, not to mention the overall operating model of the policing bodies that had existed until that point.